Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Labyrinth of Illegal Immigration

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review
Navigating self-interest, ideals, and public opinion in the debate about illegal immigration.
Activists portray illegal immigration solely as a human story of the desperately poor from south of the border fleeing misery to start new, productive lives in the U.S. — despite exploitation and America’s nativist immigration laws.
But the truth is always more complex — and can reveal self-interested as well as idealistic parties.
Employers have long sought to undercut the wages of the American underclass by preference for cheaper imported labor. The upper-middle classes have developed aristocratic ideas of hiring inexpensive “help” to relieve them of domestic chores.

The Mexican government keeps taxes low on its elite in part by exporting, rather than helping, its own poor. It causes little worry that some $25 billion in remittances sent from Mexican citizens working in America puts hardship on those expatriates, who are often subsidized by generous U.S. social services.
Mexico City rarely welcomes a heartfelt discussion about why its citizens flee Mexican exploitation and apparently have no wish to return home. Nor does Mexico City publicize its own stern approaches to immigration enforcement along its southern border — or its ethnocentric approach to all immigration (not wanting to impair “the equilibrium of national demographics”) that is institutionalized in Mexico’s constitution.
The Democratic party is also invested in illegal immigration, worried that its current agendas cannot win in the Electoral College without new constituents who appreciate liberal support for open borders and generous social services.
In contrast, classically liberal, meritocratic, and ethnically diverse immigration might result in a disparate, politically unpredictable set of immigrants.
La Raza groups take it for granted that influxes of undocumented immigrants fuel the numbers of unassimilated supporters. Measured and lawful immigration, along with rapid assimilation, melt away ethnic-based constituencies.
Immigration activists often fault the U.S. as historically racist and colonialist while insisting that millions of foreigners have an innate right to enter illegally and reside in such a supposedly dreadful place.
Undocumented immigrants themselves are not unaware that their own illegal entry, in self-interested fashion, crowds out legal immigrants who often wait years to enter the U.S.
Increased demands on social services often affect Mexican-American communities the most grievously — a fact that explains why sizable numbers of Latinos support border enforcement.
What does all this complexity mean for the Trump administration’s plans to return to the enforcement of existing immigration statutes?
There is one red line to Trump immigration policies that otherwise are widely supported.
Most Americans want the border enforced. And, depending on how the question is worded, most voters likewise favor the completion of a wall on the southern border and an end to all illegal immigration.
There is little public support for sanctuary cities. They are seen as a form of neo-Confederate nullification — insurrectionary and unsustainable in a republic of laws.
Where controversy arises is over the more difficult question of the fate of at least 11 million foreign nationals currently residing illegally in the U.S.
Most Americans agree that if such immigrants are able-bodied but have no work history and are on public support, have just arrived hoping for amnesty, or have committed crimes in the U.S., they should be deported to their countries of origin. Nearly 1 million such people were already facing pre-Trump government removal orders.
Yet for those undocumented immigrants who are working, crime-free, and have established residence, the Trump administration will learn that the public supports some sort of accommodation that might lead to a fine, followed by the opportunity to apply for a green card.
Given those realities, the next immigration fault line will hinge on the definition of a “crime.”
For most Americans, identity theft, falsification of government affidavits, or trafficking in fraudulent Social Security numbers are the sort of violations that would end their own careers and unwind the very cohesiveness of government.
Rural or inner-city poor American citizens would go to jail for identity theft or lying on state and federal documents. Yet immigration activists sometimes seek to downplay these sorts of crimes as simply inherent in the desperate plight of the immigrant.
In sum, after the border is closed, and as long as the Trump administration does not summarily deport employed, crime-free, undocumented immigrants who have lived here for years, its reform agenda will quickly win the debate and at last return immigration to a legal enterprise.
In turn, Trump opponents will discover that while a small percentage of the undocumented have committed violent crimes, a far larger percentage than is commonly reported may have committed identity theft or falsified government documents.

Arguing to Americans that these are neither real crimes nor deportable offenses will prove no more a winning message for Trump’s critics than would deporting productive and law-abiding residents who entered the U.S. illegally win support for Trump himself.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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